Brain Research 1307 Pages 89-102 Elsevier 2010.
Although figure-ground segregation in a natural environment usually relies on multiple cues, we experience a coherent figure without usually noticing the individual single cues. It is still unclear how various cues interact to achieve this unified percept and whether this interaction depends on task demands. Studies investigating the effect of cue combination on the human EEG are still lacking. In the present study, we combined psychophysics, ERP and time-frequency analysis to investigate the interaction of orientation and spatial frequency as visual cues in a figure detection task. The figure was embedded in a matrix of Gabor elements, and we systematically varied figure saliency by changing the underlying cue configuration. We found a strong correlation between the posterior P2 amplitude and the perceived saliency of the figure: the P2 amplitude decreased with increasing saliency. Analogously, the power of the theta-band decreased for more salient figures. At longer latencies, the posterior P3 component was modulated in amplitude and latency, possibly reflecting increased decision confidence at higher saliencies. In conclusion, when the cue composition (e.g. one or two cues) or cue strength is changed in a figure detection task, first differences in the electrophysiological response reflect the perceived saliency and not directly the underlying cue configuration.